Things at the house were in disarray after Victor’s meltdown. Father made plans to send him on a health retreat to a summer home in Marseilles, Justine and Ernest and William panicked. Henry took it upon himself to visit Victor every day to suss out the cause of his collapse. Everyone asked Lily what had happened, if she had any idea what had triggered this latest break in Victor’s already frail composure.
She deleted all the data regarding the artificial human from Victor’s computer—she had a backup copy and who knew how many copies Victor had squirreled away in the library and his room—and hid his physical notes beneath the floorboards in her closet. She’d cleaned out the lab and broken down some of the more obscure equipment, so there was no evidence of the truth of the experiments. None that her family would understand, anyway. They probably just thought Victor was still playing with her—with his 3D organ printers.
The rest of the family attributed her stilted story and shaky words to the disruption, and were very careful not to do anything to further upset her.
In the past, the handling with kid gloves had hurt her feelings, though as it was well-meant she never mentioned it. Now she was grateful. She needed time to compose herself, to come up with a better lie.
Thinking was impossible in present circumstance. Victor, by turns delirious and weeping, always making heart-rending, pitiful noises even when he slept. The careful prodding from Father and Justine. Henry’s suspicion. William’s constant crying and Ernest’s open misery.
Most of all, she couldn’t stop thinking of the thing Victor created, out in the world, alive and moving and so dangerous. Where could it be? Every time she thought she’d calmed down, she remembered it. Every odd noise in the ancient Frankenstein manor, she attributed to the artificial human. Though she doubted it had any malicious intent, even the sight of it was dangerous.
If anyone found out what Victor had done…
Victor soon left, Henry with him, and uneasy quiet settled amongst the beams and hallways. The matter was not dropped, Lily didn’t think, but for the moment the family was content to simply recover. And without Victor demanding she stay inside, where she was ‘safe,’ Lily planned to search for the artificial human.
She had no plan for what to do once she located it. Honestly, she wasn’t sure there was anything she could do. Victor always said it was better to know than to not know, whatever the consequences, though.
And if she knew where it was, she could stop jumping at every little noise. The paranoia was apt to drive her to her own collapse. After all the work Mother and Father had put into putting her together into a passable lady, and with Victor already raving… that would be unacceptable. Lily knew she needed to keep a ten-fingered grip on her composure.
Finding the artificial human couldn’t make that any harder than it was right now.
She doubted it had gotten very far. The forested mountains around the Frankenstein estate were difficult to traverse to someone who knew the routes already. To something totally ignorant and only days old at this point, they would be impassable. Even something with faculties as well-developed as the artificial human’s. Victor had truly outdone himself on the design.
Where, within the woods, could it have taken shelter? There were caves further up the mountain if it could make the climb. Somehow, she doubted it had gone that far. The way would be too difficult, and if it didn’t know the caves were there, it had no reason to attempt it. It would have to be hiding someplace easier to reach.
If she were only days old… if she didn’t know anything at all, only the urging of instinct…
If she were afraid, where in the woods would she hide?
The chapel stood as the gravestone of a monastery from long, long ago. The walls had been taken down to provide material for the Frankenstein manor house. The cloisters collapsed, leaving the bases of pillars with no arches to support. Where monks had once lived in contemplation, now there was only moss-covered wrecks, broken stones held together not by mortar but tree roots. All that remained standing was the chapel, though it was in terrible shape, and some basement levels.
Lily didn’t often visit. Its existence wasn’t a secret, per se, though it wasn’t something the current generation of Frankensteins were eager to talk about. Besides, she wished to keep William and Ernest far away from the ruins. They could easily hurt themselves.
Henry had been keen on them. Victor wasn’t, and that meant the three of them rarely went there. When Lily did, it was generally to stitch her composure back into something that resembled acceptable. Father would only worry, Justine and her brothers couldn’t possibly understand. They didn’t realize that they hadn’t seen her at her worst. It would be horrible for them to see how weak she was. How could they rely on her if they knew?
The silent ruins were comforting, beautiful in their desolation and solitude. Even something taken apart that no one else has any use for could be wonderful, if they brought joy to even one person. That was the lesson this husk of ancient study had imparted to Lily. It gave her the strength to be strong for Victor, and sheltered her from the rest of the world while she recovered her composure.
Really, coming out here to scream wasn’t so different from hiding.
It was one in the morning when she arrived, though she’d left at around midnight. Everyone had to be asleep, there could be no chance that she was followed. To ensure absolute secrecy, she hadn’t turned on her flashlight until she was well into the woods, picking her way through the underbrush by moonlight and memory. The iron frame that once supported a stained-glass window caught the beams, gleaming bright against a dim backdrop. White stone peeked from a thick cover of moss and leaf litter.
The trees had definitely been disturbed recently. Green branches had been crushed, hanging by thin splinters of their mother tree. Gouges, four lines together, in the moss and dirt showed where someone had scrabbled on the rocks. The chapel door hung on one rusted, near-useless hinge, the other having snapped as it was pulled open and closed.
Lily swallowed hard, took a few breaths to steel herself. There was a window missing that was safer to use than the door. She never used that thing anyway. The noise the hinges—well, hinge, now—made was awful.
She climbed in and swept her flashlight over the abandoned pews, the collapsed beams. Pillars of moonlight set the dust floating in the air aglow. Just like always. Tranquil and solemn.
Unlike outside, there wasn’t anything—oh! In the middle of one of the sections, the pews had been reduced to splinters. Something had crashed through them, headed toward one of the cellars.
Out of what she was well aware was procrastination, Lily tested the strength of a nearby pew. The wood was definitely squishier than it ought to have been, but it took a great deal of weight before cracking.
It took a great deal of self-convincing to keep her from deciding she knew where the artificial human was and running back home. Best not leave a job half-finished, she chided herself, and if there was even a shadow of a doubt, the paranoia would only be worse. Maybe these were a couple of days old, and the artificial human had wandered elsewhere.
The cellar door was missing. If Lily’s memory served, it was now one of the reclaimed doors in the Frankenstein manor. The flashlight darted in wobbling figure eights over the uneven stone steps. Though it was a cold night, sweat dripped down the back of her neck.
Her first footstep dislodged a piece of rock that rattled down the rest of the steps. From the darkness came a sharp gasp.
She swung the light in that direction and managed to catch the heel of the artificial creature as it darted out of her field of vision. Spurred by adrenaline and wild terror, Lily raced down the rest of the steps. The light bounced too quick to show anything meaningful. There was another section of cellar behind the steps, more cave-like than the rest.
Victor’s creation crouched there, eyes so wide the whites showed all around the irises, panting hard through clenched teeth.
It was huge in this tiny space, bigger than when it flailed from its tank. Dark hair hung in its face, shoulders heaving with every labored breath. The pupils were not black, but reflected white from the flashlight.
Lily lost her grip on the flashlight. It rolled away until a rotten, collapsed shelf caught it. The artificial human’s eyes still shined, but now its face was entirely in shadow. Lily couldn’t even make her fingers close, couldn’t bring her hand down. Her feet refused to budge, though her knees were shaking. Even breathing was almost too difficult to try.
Victor always compared her to a deer. Why did he have to be right all the time?
It rose to its feet, unable to stand up straight in the low-ceilinged chamber. Closer and closer it came, until Lily could feel the heat coming from it. It burned as though with fever, a furnace in the chilly cellar. And still, Lily couldn’t make herself run.
She prayed she didn’t faint like she did the night it was born. She would be entirely at its mercy. Though before she had been sure it had no malicious intent, that thought was a lot harder to hang onto when there was only its dimly-illuminated bulk and the staring white dots of its pupils. Oh, please, oh please, oh please please please don’t faint—
They stood there, still as the stone around them, for what felt like hours. At last, the artificial human made the first move, raising its massive hand. Lily nearly gagged on her heartbeat, the need to run was overwhelming but her body was no longer her own, the world blurred with tears.
Four fingertips lightly brushed her face, traveled up her cheek and across her forehead, into her bangs. She blinked the tears away, and could just make out the other hand similarly trailing over the artificial human’s hair.
Lily’s legs gave out. She hit the ground hard, knocking a sobbing breath free, and for a second all she could do was sit there, shivering, the world spinning around her and the thing that Victor had created.
It stared down at her, then, with both hands, seized her around the shoulders. She squealed, but it paid her no mind, lifting her up until her legs were straight. It released her, and when she stumbled but didn’t fall, it almost seemed to smile.
Her first laugh startled her, and the artificial human flinched as well. The next was expected, as was the torrent that followed. Nervous, manic laughs, more relief than happiness. For a moment there, she’d really thought…
The artificial human left her to her fit of giggles. Instead, it went to the fallen flashlight. It turned it over in its hands, wincing when the light shined in its eyes and staring, entranced, when the light illuminated the rest of the cellar.
Collapsed beams and rotten shelves, the wreckage of religious elements the monks had been unable to take with them when the monastery was dissolved, littered the floor. Lily was lucky she hadn’t tripped. Still laughing, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and mentally scrambled for what remained of her composure.
The artificial human approached again. It held out the flashlight to her, pushing it more insistently when she failed to take it.
“Thank you,” she said on reflex. There wasn’t a hint of understanding in its eyes.
Frankenstein is surprisingly easy to write for, though I do often get caught up re-reading the novel when I do fact-checking and comparisons… and also my writing gets really verbose and formal…
Figuring out what level of technology, figuring out which characters from the ~*~*expanded*~*~ universe to use… it’s fun to think about. Figuring out how to maintain the themes of alienation and isolation when a key part of the original book–complete solitude interrupted only by exhibitions of hatred–is removed, that’s fun too. Comparing Elizabeth/Lily, the bride picked from childhood by Victor’s parents, and the creature who fails to be the superior man his creator wishes for… man, I just really like Frankenstein, guys!
I know I said in one of my previous posts it was gonna be another dirty book because I’m a one-trick pony and my trick is erotica, but, honestly, I really just want Lily and the Creature to hold hands somewhere far away from Victor.